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How I'm Finding Blessings Amid the Separation

How I'm Finding Blessings Amid the Separation

Close up of hands holding a loaf of challah against a striped shirt

When our second son, Evan Ariel, was born on February 26, I expected that we would be more or less homebound for the weeks that followed. What I hadn’t anticipated was that the rest of the world would be joining us in our isolation.

As challenging as these days of quarantine have been, I take comfort in the many ways this strange time of separation have enabled us – however ironically – to come together. Here are a few of the “blessings of separation” I’ve experienced in the age of COVID-19.

1. We’ve worshiped online with our local Jewish community and beyond.

Although livestreamed services are not quite the same as worshipping in person, I’ve cherished the opportunity to virtually visit many Jewish communities that I’ve been part of over the years.  And I was thrilled to learn that so many people joined our synagogue’s online services that we had to increase the bandwidth of our server.

In this time of darkness and separation, we rely on our faith communities to bring us a sense of normalcy and healing. I’m glad so many congregations have been able to come together this way.

2. I’m connecting with Jewish food with the help of far-flung friends.

With our busy schedules, my family hardly ever has the time to sit down for dinner together – let alone cook.  To prepare for Passover, I decided to make my very first chicken soup from scratch.

Overwhelmed by the numerous recipes I found online, I crowd-sourced Facebook for more specific tips and techniques. In doing so, I was able adapt suggestions from friends in New York, Dallas, Boston, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., into a concoction my husband proclaimed to be “some of the best soup I’ve ever had.” The real challenge will be whether I’m able to replicate it!

In addition, some friends in Milwaukee started a #challahfromhome campaign on Facebook. Inspired by their beautiful, braided bread, I baked my first loaf of challah. It was much easier than I thought but involved a lot of time and patience – two things I often lack. The delicious smell wafting through our house was an inspiring way to welcome Shabbat!

3. We’re getting to know our neighbors… from afar.

We have had delightful conversations – at a safe distance, of course –with many neighbors on our quiet cul-de-sac. We cross the street whenever we see someone else walking toward us, but a friendly nod shows that we understand the need to remain at least six feet apart.

We’ve joked that we should have a giant block party once life gets back to normal so that we can connect for real. Let’s hope we can actually make it happen.

4. We’ve developed a sense of community with other parents.

Quarantine has been particularly difficult for my older son, Alex. At 2 years old, he is fully aware that his routine has turned upside down, though he cannot understand why.

Alex desperately misses his friends and teachers from his daycare. Fortunately, we have been able to connect with his classmates and teachers via Zoom.

Chaotic as it might be, there is nothing more entertaining than watching 15 toddlers parallel play in their individual squares. We’ve always adored his wonderful teachers, but now we have a much deeper appreciation for all that they do to help nurture our children.

In facilitating the calls, we’ve also had the chance to get to know Alex’s classmates’ parents, which has enabled us to develop a real sense of school community. After all, we’re all experiencing the same challenge of constantly engaging stir-crazy and wildly energetic toddlers on lockdown!  

5. I’ve been able to reconnect with friends across the globe.

The magic of Zoom has also enabled me to connect with old friends, some of whom I haven’t spoken to in more than 15 years. In our typically global society, it can be hard to keep up with people who live in other time zones – but as the days blur together, COVID-time is somewhat more flexible than reality.

I’ve enjoyed group video chats with friends from high school, college, and cantorial school who live in places spanning from Atlanta to San Francisco to Jerusalem. Despite the thousands of miles of distance between us, we're all feeling the impact of this pandemic.

***

In Jewish tradition, we encounter blessings of separation in a different sort of way.

At the conclusion of Shabbat each week, we conduct a ritual known as Havdalah (literally “separation”), which is designed to bring the sweetness and joy of Shabbat into the mundane workweek. We drink wine, smell fragrant spices, and light a braided candle with multiple wicks.  

Our sages teach that the Havdalah candle has more than one wick because the blessing we recite over the fire is written in the plural. This implies that there are multiple types of fire, created by multiple groups of people.

By bringing two or more flames together, we demonstrate the ways in which separate groups of people are able to come together in solidarity. When we put two different flames together, they become a singular bright light. 

Although we may physically be alone in our individual homes at the moment, we remain connected through the collective experience and memory of being part of this extraordinary time in the history of humanity – a light that will shine brightly so long as we continue to nurture it.

Though I grieve the fact that my son entered into a world that is vastly different than the one we knew just a few weeks earlier, I remain hopeful that we will one day emerge from this time of separation – however long it might be – kinder, stronger, and more grateful than we were before.

See "25 Jewish Things to Do Under Quarantine" for ideas for engaging with your Judaism from home during this time of physical separation.

Cantor Lauren Phillips Fogelman serves Temple Israel of Northern Westchester in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y. She is a proud member of the American Conference of Cantors

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